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The Bermuda Triangle Database

The Disappearance of Flight 19

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   My connection with a search for an answer to the fate of Flight 19 began over 20 years ago when I actively began researching The Bermuda Triangle. The disappearance of 5 large US Navy warplanes in unison was a phenomenal event in 1945, and it is no wonder that it became the instigating factor for journalists to probe into the records and uncover many other disappearances. Within a short span of time the concept of The Bermuda Triangle would be born. No one who investigates The Bermuda Triangle can ignore Flight 19. It is the beginning, the anchor point, the most astounding occurrence in The Bermuda Triangle . . .

     . . .And because of this it is, paradoxically, the most obscure case. This paradox exists for one reason. The flight became swallowed up into the greater enigma of The Bermuda Triangle. Any recounting of the incident was limited to minor vignettes. All that was necessary was

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for writers to link it with the many other ships and planes that had vanished in the area and then continue on with theories and the ultimate ramifications of all the mystery.  And yet, in truth, Flight 19 is the greatest mystery in the annals of aviation.

     Ironically, my research has shown that Flight 19 stands alone. . . and, even more ironic, that is stands apart from The Bermuda Triangle. Yes, it took off and flew in the Bahamas, an area considered the heart of the Triangle, but it did not disappear in the Triangle. The 5 aircraft, the 14 men, did in fact make it back to land. Over a decade of research and searching has allowed me to put together the entire flight, the events leading to it and the mysterious aftermath and probable fate of the famous “Lost Squadron.”

   This began with certain presentations here on my web site. Then, when some on the media heard I had finished my manuscript on the subject, in which I presented my case in detail, NBC used it as inspiration for a 2 hour special presentation documentary. They Flew into Oblivion, the title of my MS, also inspired a Resolution in Congress on November 17, 2005, which passed overwhelming with a vote of 420-2. It also inspired NBC to position into orbit the highest declassified military satellite in hopes of finding a trace of the flight in the swamp where my research had led me. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by what my facts had inspired.

     And, as many of you know, I have a passion for book design. I designed my own limited edition copy of They Flew into Oblivion. For being a book that I myself designed and published, and yet only advertised by putting a link up on my site, the response was quite remarkable. I garnered praise. It swayed other military historians, and Randy Wayne White, the author of the long running Doc Ford series by Putnam, is even using They Flew into Oblivion as the inspiration for some of the adventures of his character Doc Ford in an upcoming installment of his series.

   It became high time that I finally sought a real publisher and also put up more chronological information on my web site. This section begins the pages solely devoted to Flight 19, my historical research to actually piece together what happened, and my personal search to actually find the last remnants of the famous and enigmatic “Lost Patrol.”  

   We begin with the Flight.  The flight took off at 2:08 p.m on the afternoon of December 5, 1945, in order to fly a routine triangular flight pattern over the heart of the northern Bahamas.  It should have been but a 2 hour and 15 minute flight. It was a very easy navigational hop, and they were hemmed in by many distinctive landmarks.  When messages were intercepted about 3:40 p.m. that the flight was lost and the flight leader, Lt. Charles Taylor, believed his compasses were malfunctioning, there should have been little cause to worry. The standard procedure for any lost flight over sea was to fly west until they find the coast.

   The sun was clearly to the west this late in the afternoon.  There were 5 aircraft involved. One of them had to have a working compass. After trying a couple of different courses, the flight leader finally said they would head west until they reached the beach or ran out of gas.

   Nevertheless, hours later, hours of garbled radio communication, there was still no sign of them. Finally a radio position fix revealed the 5 aircraft were far north in the Atlantic Ocean. This was incredible, for it meant they had gotten out of the Bahamas without ever seeing a distinctive landmark. Fortunately, even at this late time they still had more than enough fuel to make the coast. Yet they never got back to base. Seven hours after they had taken off for their short flight, their voices segued into the night forever. No trace would ever be found.

     The disappearance of this entire squadron of 5 US Navy Avengers was considered so extraordinary that it became the impetus for the enigma of The Bermuda Triangle. In 1962 Allan W. Ekert wrote a sensational piece in the American Legion Magazine. In it

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he introduced captivating dialogue between the “flight leader” and the “tower.” Legend, truth, myth and error sprang from that article, and to this day many people have a very confused or skewed view of Flight 19, the actual flight, men, the myth and, most importantly, the facts.

   Indeed, the men of Flight 19 are little known. They are obscure supporting characters for a legend of strange netherworld forces, 

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UFO abduction, even for esoteric and piquing theories like time and space warps. Yet the fate of Flight 19 cannot stand entirely separate from the character of those involved. Rumors and legends spread quickly that one student pilot took over. Gossip said the flight leader lost his mind; that other pilots panicked. Slander said one was drunk. Absurdity said one mutinied. Almost immediately, it seemed the truth had been lost.

     Fourteen men comprised the crew of the Avengers. There was pilot, gunner and radioman. (This day one pilot was short a radioman. Instead of 15 crew there were only 14.)  Each pilot was experienced. The notion that only the flight leader was an experienced pilot is fiction. Navy pilots must undergo more training than Army pilots because they will be stationed on carriers. All of these pilots were graduated pilots. Their training here was specific to the Navy requirements, not to piloting.

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   Fort Lauderdale used 3 triangle “problems” for advanced over-water navigation. Their  purpose was to train pilots in finding their target or base carrier by relying on wind direction, time of travel, direction of waves, and so forth. Each triangle used landmarks in the Bahamas as key nodal points by which instructors graded the progress of each student leading that particular “leg” of the flight. The other student pilots would be checking up on the courses as well.  The flight had the combined power of 10 compasses and 5 navigators. 

     Today Flight 19 was assigned Problem Navigation Number 1. This flight triangle was a line drawn from Fort Lauderdale, the squadron’s home base, to Hen and Chicken Shoals, about 56 miles off the coast north of the Bahamian island of Bimini. Here they would conduct mock bombing runs on an old hulk. After this, another student pilot would lead them further easterly to Great Stirrup Cay. From here they would turn and follow another pilot northwest for 73 miles, cross the large and distinctive land mass of Grand Bahama, then off the island of Great Sale Cay turn southwest and follow another student for 124 miles right back into Fort Lauderdale. Each leg of the flight —Fort Lauderdale to Chicken and Hen Shoal, thence to Great Stirrup Cay, thence to Great Sale Cay, thence home to Fort Lauderdale— would be led by a student. Each pilot would check the course. The flight leader would fly behind them and grade them. If they missed any of their landmarks, the entire flight would get a “down” because it meant that all of the students made a mistake by not catching the mistake of the student leading that particular leg.

     There seemed little chance of that today. The wind direction and strength was known, the flight was simple, the pilots and many of the crew had flown the area before, some of them many times.

     Nevertheless, somewhere within this island crowded area, on this simple training triangle, something went terribly wrong and 5 pilots did not notice until it was too late. Truth lies in between the extremes that haunt the world of hype and hyperbole. Flight 19 was not the victim of UFOs. Yet it was not the victim of unqualified student pilots who didn’t know what they were doing. One pilot simply could not have made a mistake and the others blindly follow.

     Radio communication picked up by other pilots and by base stations gives us some glimpses in the drama that must have been unfolding. We know that the flight leader, Charles Taylor, was certain he took the flight off course while in the heart of the Bahamas. It was only after they failed to find their next landmark, the unavoidable Grand Bahama Island, that he realized they were lost and that his compasses were not working properly. Knowledge of this, however, does not help dispel the mystery. There were 4 other pilots who could have corrected the course if they were lost. There were 4 other pilots who could have said that they weren’t lost. But they didn’t. Radio communications only revealed they had a discussion of compasses and headings.

     This didn’t resolve the problem. The flight leader became sure that he must have taken the flight over their course for about an hour and none of his students had bothered to catch his erred compass heading. He no doubt did not trust their input anymore. Being sure they were in the Florida Keys, he ordered the flight to head northeast. The logic of this was to have the flight cut across the Bay of Florida and find the southern coast of Florida. From there they could easily follow the coast line and find Fort Lauderdale.

     But that didn’t happen. Over the next hour radio communications with the flight continued to deteriorate, but it was obvious they never sighted any land. After a disagreement between the lead pilots, the flight leader had announced that they would fly west until the hit the beach or ran out of gas.

   A radio triangulation would tell us that at 5:50 p.m. the flight was far north of the Bahamas. Somehow they had indeed gotten out of the heart of the Bahamas without seeing any distinctive landmark and were in the North Atlantic off Florida at New Smyrna Beach. Heading west for the last 30 minutes or so had only taken them northwest in the heavy winds heading northeast. Nevertheless, if they continued west they should cross the Florida coast around Flagler Beach.

     Yet none of the land bases listening in to the broken and faint radio communication believed the flight ever made land. The last words that could be understood were from Taylor, the flight leader. He was insisting that they were still in the Gulf of Mexico and that they should turn around and head east. His hope was that they could ditch much closer to the west coast of Florida.

     A storm had been brewing west of Florida and now the clouds were all over the peninsula and creeping further into the Atlantic. The seas were beginning to pitch. The wind was whipping up the whitecaps into frothy streamers. An easterly course now would have taken Flight 19 further out into a windswept Atlantic Ocean.

     Based on the last wisps of garbled communication between 6:30 p.m. and 7:04 p.m., the Navy officers and men involved formed the impression that the flight had turned and headed easterly, going to their doom by ditching in a tumultuous dark Atlantic Ocean about 8 p.m. that night. Yet this overlooks key dialogue picked up coming from the flight. It overlooks the character of the student pilot who took over the flight, Marine Captain Edward Powers Jr., and it overlooks enigmatic radar reports from various bases and the carrier Solomons. Together these led me on my quest to find the final resting place of Flight 19. With this key, and many others, I was able to assemble the final moment of the flight. Analyzing all the dialogue (bits and pieces held by various bases that were able to catch the dialogue), it is possible to also reassemble the beginning of the flight and answer the confusing questions as to how the flight got lost to begin with and, more puzzling, how they got out of the Bahamas without ever seeing a distinctive landmark.  In the end, why they flew into oblivion becomes clear, and I was finally able to unravel the greatest mystery of aviation. Irony, mystery, tragedy, and infrared come together to reveal one of the most complex military blunders in peacetime.              

Don’t Disturb The Alligators!

Images of the Okefenokee . . .

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   The “land of trembling earth” — 700 square miles of it, plus 15,000 alligators, acidic water, peat, murk, carnivorous bugs and moving islands— a “Legend of the Lost” that most Americans don’t even know exists, and a solution to Flight 19 as far from the Bermuda Triangle as possible . . .in southern Georgia.

     The burden of evidence and logic has indeed been that. Even before placing all my findings and reasons into book form (though some was on this website), the weight of the evidence had inspired History Channel and later NBC to pursue the truth behind the Okefenokee and to present in detail my recreation of both the beginning and last moments of the “Lost Squadron.”

     Of all the mysteries I have probed into, I am proudest of my work on this incident. I’ve not only been able to reveal the truth behind the legend, and to chronicle it accurately, but I’ve also been able to proceed close enough to truly solving it.

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